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The basics

If you’ve ever had an ear infection as an adult, you know just how painful they can be. Ear infections can also be a big concern for parents. Not only can they cause your child to be very uncomfortable, but they can also be hard to treat. Many people are turning to essential oils as a way to help clear up an ear infection naturally. But do essential oils for ear infections work? Can they be dangerous? Here’s what you need to know about using essential oils for ear infections.

Essential oils are derived from plants. Think of them as super concentrated forms of the plant they’re taken from. Plants or plant parts are steamed, allowing the oil to be separate from the water present in the plant. The chemical makeup of the essential oil depends on the type of plant it’s from and the way the oil is harvested.

Some essential oils have antimicrobial or antibacterial properties, which are useful for fighting off viral and bacterial infections.

Viruses work by taking over the cells in your body. The virus then uses your own cells to make more virus cells. Certain essential oils can help stop that process by preventing the virus from replicating.

Other types of essential oils work like an antibiotic, helping to kill off harmful strands of bacteria. Different oils work to kill the bacteria in different ways. For example, some can interfere with the cellular processes that give the bacteria energy. This causes the bacteria to starve to death and leave your system.

Tea tree and basil oils both have medicinal properties that may be useful in treating ear infections.

A 2006 review of tea tree oil’s properties explains that tea tree oil has a lot of terpinen-4-ol. This chemical compound kills off bacteria that it comes into contact with. Because of this, tea tree oil may be even more effective than some antibacterial cleaning agents.

Researchers in a 2005 animal study assessed the effects of oil of basil when placed in the ear canal of rats with acute ear infection. This treatment healed 56 to 81 percent of rates infected with Haemophilus influenzae and 6 to 75 percent of rats infected with pneumococci.

Although the results are promising, more research is necessary to determine the efficacy and safety of using essential oils in humans.

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You should always dilute your essential oil with a carrier oil before use. This will lessen the potent nature of the oil and prevent burning or irritation on your skin. Common carrier oils include jojoba, coconut, and extra virgin olive oils. You should use 1 teaspoon of carrier oil for every 1 drop of essential oil.

Before using essential oil in the ear canal, you should do a small skin patch test to assess how your skin will react to the substance. Dilute your essential oil, and spread the mixture on a quarter-sized area of skin. Your inner arm is generally a good place to try this. If you don’t experience any irritation or inflammation over the next 24 hours, it should be safe to use the essential oil.

You can use an essential oil to treat an ear infection in a few different ways.

In one method, soak a cotton ball in the diluted essential oil, and then place the cotton ball lightly in your ear. This will allow the oils to seep slowly into the ear canal. Be careful not to force the cotton ball into your ear. This can cause the fibers to get trapped and may worsen the infection.

In another method, dilute 1-2 drops of essential oil in 2-4 drops of a carrier oil, such as warmed olive oil. Make sure the mixture isn’t too hot to the touch. Use a clean dropper to release the oil directly into your ear canal. Keep your head tilted diagonally with the uninfected ear approaching your shoulder and infected ear facing the sky. After a minute, resume your normal stance and allow the oil to drip out naturally. Wipe the oil away with a clean cloth.

You can also rub the diluted oil around your ear. This may help reduce inflammation and pain. If your ear infection is affecting the middle ear, this approach likely won’t bring relief.

Applying undiluted essential oil to the skin can cause irritation. Make sure you test your diluted essential oil on a small area of skin before applying the mixture in or around your ear.

You shouldn’t use this remedy if your eardrum has ruptured. If this has occurred, any pain in your ear will generally subside. If you’re still feeling pain in your ear, your eardrum is likely still intact. If you’re unsure, you should consult your doctor.

If you use more than 1-2 drops of essential oil at a time, you may cause your ear to become clogged. It’s best to do one treatment, wait a few hours to assess the state of your ear, and repeat it if necessary.

Children, women who are breast-feeding, and women who are pregnant should exercise caution when using essential oils.

Ear infections typically resolve on their own within one to two weeks without treatment. The symptoms of ear infections, such as pain and inflammation, typically clear within three days.

During this time, you can use a warm compress or an over-the-counter pain medication to help alleviate symptoms. If you’re still experiencing symptoms after this three-day window has passed, you should consult your doctor.

In certain cases, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic to help clear up the infection. If you have recurrent ear infections, talk with your doctor. They can help you determine the cause and work with you to resolve the issue.

Check out: How to use ear drops »

If you plan to treat your ear infection with essential oils, you should consult your doctor beforehand. They can help guide you through the process and provide you with information that may help prevent a reaction or clogged eardrum. They can also help you determine if your eardrum is ruptured.

Essential oils aren’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so it’s important to do your research. You should only purchase products from a trusted manufacturer.

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Once you have your essential oil, be sure to dilute the product with a carrier oil and do a patch test before use. If you experience adverse side effects at any time, you should discontinue use.

Keep reading: Home remedies for your baby’s ear infection »